The warmth of the summer day was heightened by a bright sun, but calmed by a gentle breeze. The Cedar Side Trail follows the Red Cedar River for about two miles through Rice Lake Wisconsin. Trees line both embankments of the river and at places shade the trail traveler with a canopy of tall oak, ash, maple, and pine. During the early spring and fall, the river can be seen through most of the trail. Now, at the end of June, with underbrush and wildflowers in full growth, glimpses of the river appear at natural breeches in the wall of trees, and at areas trimmed especially for the visitor.
Not long ago, only a week or two, the river ran high and dirty. Historic rain fell in the south of the state causing flooding and damage to many unsuspecting sites. The rain in Rice Lake kept the river full to the brim, the lake a bit high, but there was no serious damage.
Today, the river seems unmoving, except for some ripples along the edges where the lowering flow has revealed rocks, some in their usual places, some moved downstream a bit, some newly appearing. The sandy bottom of the river is obscured only slightly by the tea colored flow.
The warm sun on my arms and face is pleasant, but I savor the cool breeze that seems to appear from nowhere, come from all directions at once, then skitter along the grassy slopes away from the river, teasing the wildflowers and testing bird's balance as they flit here and there gathering their lunch.
My face is toward that wall of trees along the path as I search the shadows for the crystal twinkling of sunlight on the water somewhere below. The deep golden tan of the sandy river bottom is neatly trimmed by dark, almost black, along the shore -- wetland weeds below the water's surface.
Suddenly I come to a break in the barrier reef of trees and enjoy in my walk what would be a second or two of clear view of the river and far shore, but there is a blotch of sand out of place. The sand reaches up from the water as though the artist painting this scene had slipped and left a broad brush mark on the far shore. I halted, inquiring, why was there a sandy shore where everywhere else was overgrown?
As I stopped and turned, the sandy blotch noticed me and raised its head. I stood for several seconds examining the doe on the far bank. She stood motionless, watching me for signs of danger. She had been drinking of the river water at a shallow spot near a little backwater where the trees overshadowed the shore. As we stood watching each other, a drake and two young mallards came down the river between us, oblivious to the spell cast between the deer and me.
I turned and raised my hands to my waist to rest my arms. The deer saw movement not unlike a hunter raising a bow or rifle. Turning quickly, she darted into the underbrush and the safety of the trees. She didn't know, or care, that she was in someone's back yard. This was her home, her haven, her safe place.
I stood for a long time after, soaking in the scene and the exchange I had with Nature herself. I could have no questions. I knew there were no answers. This was just the way it was.
I returned to my walk a different man, humbled, more connected with everything around me. For all that is around me is a part of me, and me a part of it all.